Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Annex A



  1.  Central departments have been under a duty to incorporate sustainable development objectives within their operational activities since the publication of "This Common Inheritance" in 1990. The Department for the Environment began publishing guidance soon thereafter and this covered the goal of conserving forests by purchasing from sustainable sources.

  2.  In 1997 HMG commissioned a review of its operational activities to see how environmental performance could be improved. In the same year in an answer to a Parliamentary Question HMG confirmed that its procurement policy was based on value for money and that individual departments were expected to obtain timber from sustainable sources where practicable and within the constraints of EU and other international rules.

  3.  On 20 May 1998 DETR launched a Model Policy for Greening Government Operations and a model framework for implementation through targets and action plans. The model policy for timber was to purchase sustainable timber which as far as possible comes from forests that have been independently verified as well managed to sustain bio-diversity and prevent harm to other eco-systems and to indigenous or forest dependent people. This model was not a binding commitment on departments who were free to adopt or adapt it as they saw appropriate. However, it did indicate those policies that were agreed (ie HMG policy) and that included the policy to ensure that products derived from wildlife, such as timber, are from sustainable sources.

  4.  At the same time as HMG was tightening up its green operations Friends of the Earth was mounting a campaign to halt deforestation in the Amazon. FOE exposed two instances of Government departments purchasing or seeking to purchase Brazilian Mahogany. This led HMG to review its timber policy and in 1999 the model policy was changed to introduce a requirement for documentary evidence to demonstrate credible independent verification—see Appendix A2.

  5.  The current policy is set out in the action sheet on wood in the Green Guide for buyers, which advises how the policy might be implemented and performance monitored and gives details of initiatives that have bearing on it such as CITES (http://defraweb/environment/greening/greenpro/greenbuy/28.htm). It is reproduced at Appendix B.

  6.  An informal interdepartmental working group was set up to monitor each others timber purchases and exchange information (hereinafter referred to the Timber Buyers Group or TBG). The TBG first met in October 1999 and has met five times since then. A summary of its remit and activities is at Appendix C.

  7.  The preparations for the G8 summit in 2000 included consideration on the role that UK Government domestic timber procurement could play in tackling illegal logging. One outcome of the summit, held in July 2000, was a UK inspired commitment from the G8 members to review their domestic procurement practices. In swift response to this DETR arranged an inspired PQ the answer which, on 28 July 2000, commited all central government departments and their agencies to apply the model timber policy forthwith and for the Timber Buyers Group to help them—see Appendix D.

  8.  In September 2000 DETR wrote to Heads of Procurement in Government departments to invite greater participation in the Timber Buyers Group with its wider remit. In January 2001 HM Treasury issued a Procurement Practice Note reminding the Government procurement community that the model policy must be adopted. In March 2001 departments with Green Ministers were asked to report details of their timber purchases as part of their returns for the annual Report of Green Ministers. In June 2001 DTLR wrote to Heads of Procurement reminding them again of the policy and seeking volunteers to work with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature on a pilot project that would demonstrate how timber from well managed forests could be procured.

  9.  In October 2001 DETR commissioned consultants Environment Resources Management (ERM) to undertake research into HMG timber procurement activities and to identify options for helping departments implement the timber policy. This study is due to be completed in the summer of 2002. Full details of the consultant's tasks and their emerging findings are at Appendix E (1 & 2).

  10.  For the third Green Ministers Report, published November 2001, departments were sent a questionnaire on timber procurement. Only seven departments were able to report on their timber purchases. This was because departments had little opportunity to change their systems and processes to meet the new reporting requirements. Last year was therefore a transition period for reporting on timber purchasing, however, it set a standard for Government buyers to report annually on their timber purchases and on assurances they have received that the sources were sustainable and legal.

  11.  The 2001 report did however reveal that all departments had issued a clear statement of the Government's commitment to their suppliers. A few had translated the requirement into terms of contracts with suppliers and the remainder had plans in hand to do so. Some departments were also working with their suppliers of furniture and other wood products to raise awareness and explore the implications for seeking verified sustainable and legal sources

  12.  The cross-government Sustainable Procurement Group—recently set up by the Secretary of State to explore how sustainable development can be more fully integrated into procurement—will report in the summer. It is likely to recommend more robust structures for monitoring performance in areas such as the procurement of timber.

  13.  On 25 March 2002 a public consultation meeting was held to discuss emerging findings from the ERM scoping study into the Government's procurement of timber and timber products. A copy of the consultation paper is at Appendix E. It is also on the UK Tropical Forest Forum website under Forum activities, Trade, Timber Trade (

  14.  On 13 May 2002 the Environment Minister wrote to Green Ministers requesting a review of timber procurement. A model clause for timber requirements was included for Departments to use as an interim measure pending publication of ERM's report—see Appendix F.


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